So…. you all thought I’d died, right? You all hate me? You’re cursing me even now?
…or perhaps you’ve totally abandoned me. Wouldn’t blame you, really. Heh.
Anyhow, never fear, I have a week left of Christmas break and I’m on a roll! This story will come to a close!! …..eventually.
Hidden Blade: Chr. 27
Aramir opened his mouth to laugh and instead a startled yelp jumped out when his door suddenly swung open again and hit the wall with a loud bang. Deigh stood in the doorframe, anxiety painted across her young face. She didn’t see Kellian, who had managed to leap behind the door in time, but that didn’t seem to matter.
“Aramir, come quickly! There’s an attack…Orcs…village…”
She was so flustered that Aramir could barely understand her, but he did, and his stomach did a flop. He stepped forward and took her hands. “Calm down, Deigh. Where is Lee?”
She told him. “But I’m supposed to find Kell…”
Aramir reached behind the door and dragged Kellian into view. “That was easy. Let’s go.”
Together the three ran from Aramir’s room; the latter strapped his weapons to his side as he moved down the hall and towards the stables, where Lee and the others were waiting.
The distraction of his weapons was all that kept Aramir from noticing the terrible feeling of dread that had risen inside of him.
They reached the stables, where the rest of the Itir were gathering; only one had remained behind to protect Arodan and Ilren should anything happen. Aramir threw open Narmo’s stall door and ushered the horse out into the sun, then swung onto his back and waited for the rest to do the same. It didn’t take long. Efficiently and with precision that was second nature, the Itir readied their horses and mounted, and the group of eleven black figures moved out of the city and toward the small farming village that was under attack.
Aramir had plenty of time to think as he rode, but he chose to concentrate on his training. Blocks and parries ran through his mind, as they always did when he knew he was about to go into battle. This wasn’t new to him; attacks were rare, but he had done his share of fighting in defense of the city and its people during his time as an Itir. The preparation was always the same–everything he knew about fighting ran through his head at a ridiculous speed, giving him no time to review, only the assurance that the knowledge was still there.
And it was. With a satisfied nod, Aramir patted Narmo’s neck, but his concentration was now on the smoke that was rising from the burning village just ahead. It was small, but surrounded by fields of crops that provided the city with much of its food. Aramir squinted through the smoke; already many of the plants had been lost in the fires set by the Orcs.
He glanced around and behind him, noting the position of each Itir, and then his eyes caught the sight of soldiers riding after them. His heart skipped a beat–more Orcs? Then he got a better look and realized that it was not Orcs, but members of the Guard.
And Janst was at their head.
Of course, it had to be Janst, Aramir thought. No doubt the man would be breathing down his neck the entire time, watching him fight, waiting for him to make a mistake. Aramir growled and drew his sword. There would be no mistakes to see. He shot one final glance at Kellian and then the Itir were through the flames.
The first thing Aramir noticed was the screaming. It had been there all along, and yet he hadn’t heard it until now. It rose around him, ringing in his ears, carried on the wind, the smoke, and the arrows of Orcs as they shot frantically at their attackers. Both women and men, old and young, ran through the smoke, coughing and choking and crying out for aid. Sick at heart, Aramir narrowed his eyes and raised his sword.
All around him, the sounds of battle raged. Narmo maneuvered skillfully through the crowds of people and Orcs, leaving Aramir to his battle as the horse fought his own battle on the ground. Orcs that weren’t trampled under Narmo’s hooves were left to face Aramir’s blade.
He turned in the direction of the voice just in time to see something huge and black coming towards him. He leaned forward to avoid it, but only succeeded in throwing himself further off balance. The Orc collided with him, and the two toppled to the ground with a loud crunch. Narmo screeched to a halt, whirled around, and charged over to his master protectively, hooves striking out at everything that came near.
The Orc was dead before the pair hit the ground, Aramir’s sword buried in his breast. The black-clad Itir climbed to his feet, hand clutching his side; something inside had cracked, and if the loud noise of breaking bone hadn’t been enough indication, then surely the pain was. He took several sharp breaths, shook his head to clear it, and returned to defending the village.
The battle was short-lived. Whatever the Orcs had been hoping to accomplish didn’t seem nearly as important as their lives, and those that weren’t killed in the initial clash fled when they realized they were no match for the Itir and the Guard.
In the quiet that followed, Aramir took a moment to inspect himself. Aside from his cracked rib–the pain was now a dull, persistent throb–he had only one serious wound: a long, thin cut on his upper arm. Black blood was dripping slowly from it, a steady stream of ink writing out his doom. Relieved that he had come out of the battle in such good shape, he reached into his tunic for the little bottle.
And froze in terror.
It wasn’t there.
Panic like he had never known seized him and was replaced almost immediately with a disturbing calm. It’s all right. All I have to do is find something to wrap it in, and I’ll be fine until I get home. He took a deep breath and only then realized that he was trembling.
“Something wrong, Aramir?”
Panic again. Worse than before. His heart, beating, beating in his chest like the footsteps of impending doom. Something awful… Somehow he knew. This was it.
He turned slowly, face set in smooth stone. “I’m fine, Janst.” As long as you can’t hear my heartbeat, that is.
“Are you sure?” Janst’s voice was as calm and cool as Aramir’s, but the cold smirk on his face was sending chills up Aramir’s spine. The Captain of the Guard stepped forward and seized Aramir’s wrist.
The Itir wrenched it free and backed away. “Yes, I’m sure. Why don’t you tend to those who really need your help?”
“Aramir, are you all right?”
Aramir’s eyes skimmed over Janst to the Itir behind him. It was Deigh, and behind her was Lucen. Were all the Itir going to be there to see this?
“Your fearless leader is fine,” Janst sneered. “Just a little scratch, nothing to worry about.” He turned to face Deigh. “Just as soon as his blood colour returns to normal, he’ll be fine.”
“What?” Lucen stepped forward. “What do you mean, a normal colour?”
This time, when Janst seized Aramir’s wrist, the Itir was unable to free himself. Every time he tried, the pain in his chest spread and then lessened, sharp stabs of agony that prevented Aramir from fighting back. His head was swimming, the world was becoming blurry. What was wrong? Loss of blood? Was the cut that bad?
He was vaguely aware that he was being dragged through the town by Janst, and that Itir, guardsmen, and townspeople were following the odd spectacle as it moved toward the centre of the small village. Suddenly his back was to a tree and Janst was next to him, baring his right arm, and the cut upon it, for all to see. He felt the warm, black liquid trailing down his arm; Janst raised it into the air, and the blood trickled over his shoulder and made its way down his side like tiny insects creeping over his body. Aramir clenched his teeth and fought the intense desire to scream. It had never been like this before, but now… He made a desperate attempt to free himself from Janst and ended up on his knees, still within the iron hold of his captor.
The dizziness was gone. The world was clear, sharp, focused. He saw everyone, heard everything. There was Deigh, eyes wide with confusion. There was Kellian, staring in horror. There was Lee…
The Captain of the Itir burst through the crowd. “Janst, what is the meaning of this?” he bellowed.
Aramir almost smiled, but then Janst clapped his hand over the Itir’s cut. He clenched Aramir’s arm firmly, forcing even more blood to flow from the cut, and then removed his hand, stained black. He held his hand aloft.
“This is the meaning!” Janst shouted to the crowd. “It seems to me that there is one Orc we haven’t dealt with yet!” He wheeled on Aramir, still kneeling below the tree, and pointed at him with violent force.
“I think,” Janst hissed, “that there is something Aramir hasn’t told you, Lee.”
Lee held his ground, poised between the crowd and the two men. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword and his eyes were straining to meet Aramir’s. The young Itir, eyes cast to the ground, refused to meet Lee’s confused glance. His ears were filled with the murmurings of the townspeople and his comrades. Everything had come to a halt. The wounded waited to be healed, the buildings still burned with fire not yet extinguished.
“Aramir,” Lee whispered.
“What is he?”
“Is he allied with the Orcs?”
“Why is his blood black?”
“What do we do?”
Finally he had no choice. He lifted his head and opened his eyes. They were staring at him in confusion, shock, horror, anger.
What am I going to do? What now?
Janst hauled him to his feet and backed him against the tree. He drew his sword and placed the point at Aramir’s chest.
“Why don’t we let him tell us?” he shouted. “Tell us, Aramir! I’m sure you have a perfectly good explanation. Why is your blood black?”
“Janst, stop it! Leave it be!”
“This does not concern you! Aramir is under my authority, not yours!”
It was Kellian and Lee, but their voices were drowned out by the crowd, and by Janst.
“He is under the authority of Gondor! Let us take this to Arodan!” He spun to face Aramir. “But first.” The sword pressed into the Itir’s chest. “An explanation?”
“I……I…” He shook his head and glared hard at Janst. “Fine,” he hissed, “you want to know?! My great-grandfather was an Orc! I am the descendant of an Orc!” Blinded by rage and fear, he smacked the sword from his chest, wrenched it from Janst’s hands, and hurled it to the ground. Tears were streaming down his face and his side was throbbing, but he couldn’t feel the pain. His heart was pounding in his chest, pounding, beating… It hurt more than anything he had ever known.
They had backed away and were talking quietly, hurriedly. When he looked at them, they looked away. They were afraid of him. They hated him. He could see it in their eyes. Their village… he had as good as attacked it. To them, he was just another enemy.
Janst had done that.
For one horrible minute, Aramir forgot who he was. He forgot he was standing in the middle of a village of frightened people, each looking for a reason to hate him. He forgot everything. All he knew was that something awful was going to happen, was happening now, and that it was Janst’s fault.
He tossed his pain aside and leapt at Janst, knocking him to the ground.
“I hate you!” he shouted, tears falling from his eyes onto Janst’s shocked face. “I hate you!! This is your fault!” He struck out with all his might like a wild animal, kicking, clawing. “Why?? Why did you do this to me? Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?”
“Aramir, stop it!”
It was Kellian, rushing forward to pull his friend from Janst. Aramir let the Elf do it. His body went limp. Everything hurt.
Everything…it was so blurry…not again…
Janst climbed to his knees and crawled over to Aramir and Kellian. Rage emanated from his entire body as he drew next to the pair. Then, in a voice that was nothing more than a strand of wind, he whispered, “Hate me as you will, Orc. It fits you well.”
He saw Janst’s eyes, narrowed into dagger-thin slits, each threatening to pierce Aramir’s heart. Then there was intense pain in his head, and everything went white…and then black…and then there was nothing at all.